The shutdowns and shut-ins of the Coronavirus Pandemic have puts crimps in all of our lives. It has not put a crimp or slowed down the rise of antisemitism. From the front lines of my computer, to the future of tomorrow, there are ways for Jews to fight the ancient hatred.
One piece of an effort arrived in the mail this week from the National Museum of the United States Army. American Jews have served with distinction in the American Armed forces. 17 Jews are recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
“…In recognition of your commitment and dedicated support of the United States Army, this certifies by vote of the Board of Directors that the inscription below will be forever recognized on a commemorative brick at the National Museum of the United States Army….
Honoring the U.S. Army
The Jewish American Society
For Historic Preservation
Twenty years ago, I went on my first visit to Poland to see where my mother was from. She chose not to return to her former home after being liberated from Bergen Belsen. Pogroms were taking place in her former city. She was traumatized, not crazy. She claimed the property just the same with the Russian military authorities. Poland later declared that she, and other Jewish claimants who did not return, had abandoned everything to the state.
At her old house, except for the empty mezuzah alcove carved in the doorway and the fading letters above a driveway entrance a few doors down, saying Beit Holim, Hebrew for Hospital, there was no visible sign Jews had ever lived there. The memory had been, almost, wiped away.
A Polish lawyer advised me not to bother suing for compensation for our stolen property. He said I would get nothing but legal bills.
Nazism and antisemitic memory did their jobs well. They needed to erase the memory of Jews. It would make the Final Solution easier.
The physical sight of Jews, their visible testaments such as synagogues, offended their eyes. The Jews were removed. Those who opposed them were canceled, permanently.
I realized, for antisemitism to be successful, for the hate of anything or anyone to be successful, the visible things linking today to the past, must be removed.
The intellectual underpinning of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation was formed.
Jews have been part of the American experience from the beginning. Jews sailed the Ocean Blue with Columbus. Jews have been pioneers, explorers, frontiersmen, farmers, merchants, soldiers, political leaders, wagon train masters, Indian fighters, even Indian Chiefs, and more. Jews may have been small in number, but they are woven into every fabric of the American experience.
Most American Jews ignorantly agree with their antisemitic counterparts that Jewish American history is at best shallow and thin. Jewish American history, for most Jews, dates from the rush of the millions of Eastern European Jews to the lower East Side of New York.
Their American narratives ring familiar; great, great Aunt Tilly was the Pickle Lady standing on the corner selling pickles to put her son Simon through medical school. Simon’s son, William, moved to California and started the movie business. There is not much more for them worth remembering. They don’t care about Jewish American roots.
“What does that have to do with today?”, they say.
They should care.
The anti-Semite says they cleared the frontier. The Jew came along later, much later, when it was safe. The Jews risked nothing for America. The Jews stole their patrimony.
With visible symbols of history being destroyed, removed and history not being taught, American Jews are tragically, ignorantly agreeing with the mobs who control the narratives. The victors will write and teach their history to the young today. The young will be the voters of tomorrow.
What will be the Jewish future if there is no past to learn from?
For more than twenty years, the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation (www.JASHP.org) has been actively placing historical markers, memorials and creating programs to remember the American Jewish past.
Tiny JASHP has completed well over a hundred programs in 37 states and in five countries. Close to 7,000,000 people annually see, and benefit from one of our efforts.
As antisemitism rears up from seething embers, not just on the right but shocking for American Jews, from the left, Jewish American history is being rewritten. Jewish Americans and Israel are lumped together. Jews are being denigrated, vilified, and delegitimized as the ancient hatred, antisemitism becomes more tolerated. American Jewish response is remarkably timid. American Jews are not marching in the streets…
What can the Jewish American do about the rise of antisemitism?
The marker projects JASHP does to reflect on American commonality is one option. The donating a brick or paver at a local, community or national historical society is another. Each marker, brick, paver, etc., that JASHP funds must have the word Jew in it. The word Jew in the historical narrative is inclusive. It is an affirmative, legitimizing, visible truth of Jewish and American commonality. The American Jew did not get off the boat yesterday.
Every Jewish community, every Jewish individual, does not have to spend the larger dollars that a marker or project costs. Jews can support their local, community, state of national historical societies by buying a paver for ~$250. When the credit line is written for the donor, have the word Jew in it. The Minnetonka Jewish Community, or the Beth Israel Jewish Community, etc. Let the word Jew be seen in every opportunity of American commonality.
We have every reason to proudly proclaim our American stories.
A marker, a simple paver, brick or dedication is only one-off deals. But, if done in the thousands, it crushes the anti-Semites efforts to rewrite, to minimize, American Jewish history. It thwarts their efforts to write us and our American accomplishments out of the picture.
Can a single brick or marker really make a difference?
A few years back, JASHP completed a series of historical markers in Deadwood, South Dakota. The first Mayor, Sol Starr, and many of the stalwart citizenry of the hard fighting, gold mining town, were Jews.
JASHP received an email from a biker who had ridden up to Deadwood from Sturgis with his pals on their Hogs. He wrote to us how astonished he was when he saw the historical marker across the street from the Bullock Hotel – Sol Starr’s lifelong friend. The marker was about the Jews of Deadwood.
My biker interlocutor told me he called his mother, asap.
“Mom, you would never believe it. There were Jews in Deadwood.”
It does not take much to make a difference. It does take effort.
Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation